When I was a lad and knew a thing or two about hoofing a ball, we would arse around by playing "soccer without style" - playing the game without any of the conventions which quickly collapsed into just arsing around. I think I do the much the same thing when I think about beer as I am not really that much interested in style. I am not strongly against style like, I think it is fair to say, Ron Pattinson whose entertaining research has pretty much proven that the historic antecedents for much of what is accepted as stylistic gospel is just not there. But, even without Ron's passion and critical eye, I am still not sure why I would care that much ago beer taxonomic classification system over, for example, assessing according to a beer's quality control standards or a brewer's sense of innovation. I thought about that when I read this passage from a post by Philadelphia's own Jack Curtin from Friday (and again today):
When asked by a lady at his Philly Beer Week dinner the previous night at the Four Seasons how she could tell the difference between “stouts, porters and ales,” Fritz said he told her “it’s easy, you read the label.” He then repeated an argument that I’ve heard from him before, that beer styles are considered much too important these days, that the beer is what matters, not some arbitrary level of IBUs et al. He looked around and said it was all the writers’ fault, “you just want something to write about.” Lew countered by blaming homebrewers and I said, more correctly I believe, that it’s the fault of the Brewers Association, who need all the categories for GABF. “Okay,” said Fritz, “it’s all Charlie Papazian’s fault then.”
I came to beer in a number of ways: being a child of immigrants and wanting to try what was good in the old country, being the sort of omnivore in all respects that will pop anything in his gob and - for about five years - being a fairly active homebrewer. But I never really cared if something was to style even if I collected a small library of home brewing guides that I would pore over incessantly. For me, the interesting thing was the odd ingredient - making a pale ale...or a porter...or a Scotch ale with this hop then that one, finding out what smoked malt or torrified wheat added. I really didn't care what style my beer matched. Interestingly, that playing with style was what I found most of all in Papazian’s guides.
I think my lack of style continues in these my days of being a beer hound. I do not want to take a beer judge course nor become a cicerone. Neither do I tick or rate. I don't think that this makes me just a poor fan of beer, either. I truly do just want a good beer in my glass, whatever that beer is, and I trust no one but me to make the final assessment. It takes some effort, as with the sour beer studies, to hunt out and learn what "good" might mean to me but I fully expect that one day a stout laced with the essence of roast lamb might interest me as much as those historically accurate Victorian ales Ron has been toying with developing. All I care about is whether the beer is interesting or not... and, I suppose, whether its level of interest to me is reflected in the price I have to pay to consume it. Does that leave me adrift of the norm? A voice in the wilderness? I don't know. But, given there are so many things that I can say that about, it does give some comfort. After all, there is only one person who can swallow a beer for me.